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Twin Personas: Local Bloggers Kyle Matteson & Steve Engelmayer

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Twin Personas Interview

As an outsider looking in on the local Twin Cities music scene one may be left with a simplistic look as to what it is that The Cities and their modern artists have to offer. But aside from conversations surrounding Hüsker Dü, The Replacements or even Tapes ‘n Tapes what does the rest of the nation honestly know about the music and the musicians of Minneapolis and St. Paul? As an outsider myself it is overwhelming when attempting to step into The Cities and figure out just where to being when attempting to find the best music that they have to offer.

In this edition More Cowbell founder Kyle Matteson fields some questions about why he started the site, his favorite local record stores and the possibility of the Minneapolis hip hop scene exploding on a national level. Also, local music blogger Steve Engelmayer discusses his site The Rock ‘n’ Roll Star as well as his interaction with the scene including his favorite artists, writers and albums. And what better way to begin the search for excellent local music than to discuss just that with those who live for it?

Were you as closely interested in music as you are now before you lived in Minnesota?

Kyle Matteson: Music has been one of the most important aspects of my life since I was like 7 or 8 years old and saw my first concert (The Beach Boys). But moving from Montana to the Twin Cities in 1999 allowed me infinitely more opportunities to see live music and to live somewhere with an incredible and thriving local music scene. So to answer your question, I’ve always been huge into music, but moving to Minneapolis has only fueled my obsession.

Steve Engelmayer: I actually grew up in Vienna, Austria. Not to be confused with Australia. I can’t tell you of how many times people have asked me about kangaroos… As for music, yes definitely, I’ve been listening and sharing music since I was a little kid. I remember taping American Top 40 with Kasey Kasem on audio cassettes (remember that format?) and then making mixtapes and sharing them with my friends. So actually, nothing has changed since my childhood in that regard. I did upgrade the “Walkman” to an iPod, though.

Has living in and around the Twin Cities helped expand your musical taste?

Kyle Matteson: You bet it has. Now I was a pretty big fan of the bigger Minneapolis acts (Prince, Soul Asylum, The Jayhawks, etc.) while I was living back in Montana, but since moving here I’ve certainly gotten into those artists much more and had the chance to see them tons of times. In addition to the older national acts that hail from here, I’ve also been exposed to the amazing hip hop scene (Rhymesayers, Doomtree, Heiruspecs, etc.) that we are blessed to call our own. As you can imagine, back in Montana, your options are mostly newer country, oldies, or mainstream/top 40 music in terms of radio play and who usually stops in Montana for tours (jam bands used to all the time as well). And just being around a lot more people who are really big music fans has also helped shape and further my musical taste.

Steve Engelmayer: It’s a culturally diverse town. You can go out and find great live local and national music any night of the week. The people here are great too. Too bad we have the 6 months of winter. What’s this Al Gore all complaining about?! Then again, I think that’s all changing at the moment. I really don’t think it matters anymore where you live. The internet has changed all that. You can stream live radio on your computer or stereo, check out MySpace and music blogs, download music, the list goes on… Even if I lived in Zimbabwe, I’d still listen to the Arctic Monkeys.

What lead you to start your blog?

Kyle Matteson: People ask me this all the time, and my honest answer is to keep track of all of the live shows I go to. That was mostly the main inspiration for it at first. My wife could check out the concert calendar and know when I had shows that I was going to, etc. It then sort of spread to my friends and fellow local music fans who found it useful, and it’s just sort of spread out from there. I would love to have enough time to devote to it to where it might be up there with some of the bigger blogs (Stereogum, BrooklynVegan, Gorilla vs. Bear, etc.), but for the time I’m able to actually spend on it, I’m pretty proud of what it’s become no matter how many visitors I get. I’m also not really that great at self promotion at times, so I usually just kind of rely on friends and others who enjoy my site to tell other people about it.

Steve Engelmayer: I got sick of emailing people all the time. I’d share music-news and mp3s and simply couldn’t keep up anymore… I then stumbled on Ms. Valerie (Rock Snob) and other music/mp3 blogs and thought, “Hey, this medium would be perfect for me”. I remember all these blogs in the beginning (My Old Kentucky Blog, Gorilla vs. Bear, etc.)… I still can’t believe the whole music/mp3 blogging thing has gotten so huge. The funny thing is… I now get more emails than ever.

Have any interesting opportunities arisen as a result of the work you’ve done with More Cowbell?

Kyle Matteson: Yeah, but probably too numerous to list. I’d say mostly I just love the camaraderie and friendship that exists among both big music fans as well as many local musicians.

Steve Engelmayer: Oh my god, totally. It’s really changed my life. I’ve had a concert photo published for a promo poster for The Editors on their last tour, for example. I think I’m over 3,000 photos on my Flickr page by now. Also, I’ve met so many fellow bloggers, music journalists, local concert promoters, record-label and promo company folk; I get lots of free stuff, including concert tickets… I do really like that aspect. Then again, running a music blog is like having a second job sometimes.

Through the website, which opportunities have most enriched your experience with local music?

Steve Engelmayer: As mentioned earlier you can go out in Minneapolis/St. Paul any night of the week and catch a pretty decent local band.

Why do you think More Cowbell has experienced a high level of success within the Twin Cities?

Kyle Matteson: Tough question. I don’t really know I guess. I’m just happy that people enjoy it and find it a useful resource. Like I said, I wish I had more time to devote to it, but such is life I guess.

Your name was included in a recent discussion on Minnesota Public Radio’s The Current Music Blog surrounding the best local music critics. Do you see yourself as a music critic?

Kyle Matteson: Yeah that was a bit surprising for me. I don’t consider myself a music critic per se, but I guess I am very passionate and opinionated about music and do enjoy sharing my thoughts with others. The term “music critic” or “rock critic” has sort of gained a bit of a negative connotation, so maybe that’s why I sort of shy away from considering myself one and just usually state that I’m a huge music fan that enjoys writing about music from time to time. But I’ve certainly noticed a big improvement in my writing over the last 3 years, so that’s a good thing at least.

What voice do you believe The Rock ‘n’ Roll Star caters to within the Twin Cities?

Steve Engelmayer: Mine. I thought about that before… I gave up a long time ago (thinking of) “what people think.” Otherwise, I’d never get a post up…

Who are your favorite local music journalists?

Kyle Matteson: I suppose the obvious answer is Jim Walsh. But I enjoy reading a lot of different local writers (from the big papers, to the weeklies, to blogs, etc.) from time to time. Even if I don’t always agree with them all the time, I still find most to be big assets to the local music scene.

Steve Engelmayer: Locally I follow all the major publications, I don’t have a favorite local music journalist. I check the Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, City Pages, The Rake, Pulse, How Was The Show, local music blogs, etc… Again, that’s just a small part of my daily reading/blogroll… There are over 200 blogs and websites on my daily RSS feed, plus I read Blender, URB, and other publications when they come out. The daily New York Times is essential. It’s almost a full time job keeping up, but I love it…

Has the success of More Cowbell succeeded in helping you champion any local bands?

Kyle Matteson: None specifically that I can pick out, but I’ve been trying to cover more local stuff over the last year. The thing is, there’s so much great local music, that it would be easy to just devote all my time and energy to writing about local music, so it’s a bit hard to find a balance. Plus sites like How Was The Show cover the local scene better than I could ever dream of doing anyway.

Who released your favorite Twin Cities album in 2006?

Steve Engelmayer: The Alarmists Details of Soldiers.

Your recent list of the Top Local Albums of 2006 ranks Tim O’Reagan’s self titled release as the best of last year’s bunch. Thus far this year which have most excited you amongst Twin Cities’ releases?

Kyle Matteson: Mouthful of Bees record is quite good. The new Cloud Cult is fantastic as well. I like what I’ve heard from Ela’s record too.

Steve Engelmayer: I haven’t picked up anything too exciting this year yet. I’d like to hear the new Little Man CD, though.

Are there any upcoming local music releases that you are anticipating?

Kyle Matteson: Both White Light Riot & The Alarmists full lengths for sure. If I’m not mistaken there’s another Golden Smog album or EP coming out soon as well. I’m really looking forward to the new Heiruspecs as well; those guys deserve to be huge. I’m pretty curious what Tapes N’ Tapes come up with for their second full length as well, if that ends up coming out late this year.

Steve Engelmayer: Obviously Tapes ‘n Tapes. I’m excited to see how they follow up The Loon, especially with Eric in the band. Also, the next The Alarmists record The Ghost And The Hired Gun.

Which are your favorite local record shops?

Kyle Matteson: For just general music buying The Electric Fetus is hard to beat. For vinyl, Roadrunner is probably my favorite, but I love Treehouse, Aardvark (RIP), and the Uptown Cheapo as well.

Steve Engelmayer: The Electric Fetus, Cheapo , Best Buy, my friends and the internet.

Do you believe that the coming year of local music will continue to shroud itself in indie rock or are there any other scenes or genres that you see on the rise?

Kyle Matteson: While it’s definitely what gets most of the press (especially nationally), I think the Twin Cities music scene is pretty damn diverse. For example, the local hip hop scene here is second to none in terms of the rest of the US, and I hope that the artists that are part of that just keep continuing to grow and grow nationally as well.

Steve Engelmayer: Actually, a couple of the biggest Twin Cities artists right now are non-indie-rock: Motion City Soundtrack and Chuck Love, you just don’t hear about it all that much. Then again, I really don’t care about “genres”… I’m happy for any Twin Cities act who makes it big.

Who are your current favorite local acts?

Kyle Matteson: P.O.S., Tim O’Reagan, Hockey Night, The Alarmists, Heiruspecs, White Light Riot, Chooglin’, Story of the Sea… I could keep going on for a while.

Steve Engelmayer: The Alarmists, White Light Riot, Hockey Night, The Umbrella Sequence and Colonial Vipers Attack. Lots of other great local bands I probably haven’t seen yet…check with the HWTS peeps for more details, as I’m usually too busy checking out national and international acts…